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'Scalped' writer having sizzling August

Bill Radford
The Gazette (MCT)

It's a big month for Jason Aaron.

The start of August saw the release of a trade paperback collecting the first five issues of his ongoing series, "Scalped."

Also this month from Aaron: issue No. 8 of "Scalped," published by Vertigo, DC Comics' mature-reader imprint; the double-size "Wolverine" No. 56 from Marvel; and "Ripclaw: Pilot Season" No. 1 from Top Cow.

It would seem the days of waiting tables and stocking video-store shelves are over for Aaron, who is happily adjusting to the transformation from comics fan to comics pro.

"It's still pretty surreal," Aaron, 34, said in a phone interview from his home in Prairie Village, Kan., near Kansas City.

In 2002, Aaron won a Marvel Comics talent contest with the script for an eight-page Wolverine story. That story was published, but it didn't exactly provide a fast track to a comics career.

His pitch for a Vietnam War drama was rejected by both Marvel and DC. But Aaron kept at it, sending a full script for the first issue to Vertigo. This time, editors bit. The result was "The Other Side," a six-issue miniseries exploring the war from two perspectives: a naive American soldier and a proud North Vietnamese soldier. "The Other Side" netted Aaron an Eisner nomination, the comic book world's equivalent of an Academy Award nomination.

"Scalped," Aaron's first ongoing series, is set on an Indian reservation where its once proud people are ruled by drugs and organized crime.

"I love crime stories and it seemed like such a natural setting for a crime book," said Aaron, who has had a lifelong fascination with American Indian culture.

Rob Schmidt, the author of "Peace Party," a comic book featuring American Indians, has criticized "Scalped" for its "ultra-negative" portrayal of life on the reservation.

Aaron, though, says reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. "I've gotten letters from reservations all over the country, from Native Americans who are fans of the book."

It's not, however, a book for everyone, he cautions.

"It's a violent, profane crime story, and I think some people just object to the principal of that."

At the heart of the series is Dashiel Bad Horse, named after Aaron's 2-year-old son, Dash. An angry Bad Horse returns to the reservation after a 15-year absence, fueled by old resentments and a big secret that's unveiled at the end of the first issue.

Among the biggest influences on Aaron's writing is crime writer James Ellroy, who Aaron praises for creating deeply flawed but sympathetic characters. Aaron is attempting to do the same in "Scalped."

"Some people see that as creating totally unlikable characters. For me, when characters are flawed, it makes them more sympathetic and likeable because they're more real."

Aaron keeps that focus on character when he ventures into the superhero sandbox, as in this month's issue of "Wolverine."

"It's not really a superhero story," he said. "It's not even a story that focuses on Wolverine."

Instead, he said, it's a dark, psychological drama about a disgruntled ex-cop with a new job -- "kind of a shady job that involves shooting a man in a pit with a giant machine gun. And it, of course, turns out to be Wolverine. He's stuck in a situation where his fighting powers are of no use to him and he's forced to rely on just his wits."

On the horizon: "Friday the 13th: How I Spent My Summer Vacation" from Wildstorm and some projects for Marvel that he's not ready to reveal. Plus, of course, more "Scalped."

"I love," Aaron said, "to flex different creative muscles."


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